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Budget falls short for northern Albertans, according to Wildrose MLA

Mar 11, 2014 10:15 am | By Mike Pickford | St. Paul Journal

The Government of Alberta released its 2014 budget on Thursday, with a focus on keeping tax levels where they are, and fiscal responsibility in the coming year.

“I think the budget is a positive budget, going in the right direction,” said Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Genia Leskiw, following the release of the budget last week. “We have zero dollars being borrowed for operational funds, and we have a $2.6 billion surplus on operational funds. We put $24 billion into savings and the money we did borrow is for capital spending.”

A press release from the provincial government describes the budget as implementing, “the next phase of the Building Alberta Plan,” along with investing in families and communities, living within our means and opening new markets for Alberta’s resources.

The budget has an operational surplus of $2.6 billion. The government says it is keeping operating expense growth below population plus inflation, and is not adding any new taxes or tax increases this year.

Other commitments in the budget include 155 K-12 school projects, seven post-secondary projects, 24 health facility projects, 258 kilometers of new or twinned highways and 2,500 kilometers of rehabilitated highways over the next three years.

Last week, Premier Alison Redford described the budget as “fully balanced.”

In the press release she said, “We faced some incredibly difficult decisions in the wake of the bitumen bubble. But we took strong action to get us firmly on the path to a balanced budget, while at the same time launching the Building Alberta Plan to ensure we also addressed our infrastructure deficit.”

Leskiw says “The provincial government is making more money on its investments than it’s costing us to borrow . . . Borrowing is at four per cent, so we’re making money on investments.”

She describes budget highlights for the next three years as including $5.1 billion on municipal infrastructure, $5 billion for a provincial highway network, $2.6 billion for new health care facilities, $1.8 billion for new school capital projects, and $859 million in flood recovery.

“I know right now there are plans to overlay 881 going north from Highway 28. That section was really falling apart, and (there is) planning to overlay that,” says Leskiw.

Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw is critical of the provincial government’s claims of a balanced budget saying, “It’s clear that the PC government is doubling down on debt. Budget 2014 will cost Albertans $21 billion of debt by the 2016-17 fiscal year. Alberta will add $5.1 billion of debt this year alone, on this budget. We’re passing on a liability to future generations.”

Saskiw says the model the provincial government uses to calculate debt and spending is inaccurate and misleading.

“It’s not a surplus. The finance minister is playing with numbers. There are three different sets of books, operational, capital, and saving. (The minister) is showing the surplus in one, and showing a massive amount of borrowing in the others.”

Saskiw says if operational funding, capital, and saving were examined and considered on a consolidated basis, it would show the government has “a massive deficit.”

“Prior to Redford, the government showed simply what it was, showing surplus or deficit. It was a question of ‘How much money do we take in?’ versus ‘How much money do we spend?’ Unfortunately Redford has confused the accounting to try and hide the true level of deficit,” says Saskiw.

Saskiw says the government is not planning to fund core priority infrastructure projects in northern Alberta, which it neglects in the budget.

“It looks like where funding is going is other parts of the province. Northern Alberta is the province’s economic driver, it generates a vast amount of revenue . . . The budget betrayed north Albertans. There’s no commitment of funding for key highways. They mentioned the twinning of Highway 63, but there was no mention of twinning for Highway 881, and no mention of Highway 28.”

Saskiw refers to the CRISP report as proof the provincial government recognizes key transportation corridors, but doesn’t spend enough to support them. He criticizes the government’s spending on things like the new MLA offices, the travel expenses of the premier, and pay raises for cabinet ministers and MLAs saying.

“Albertans are going to be left with the bill.”

The Wildrose plans to provide recommendations in response to the budget, which will “move toward a consolidated, balanced budget. Most of that is eliminating corporate welfare, seeing savings on the upper executive level of management, particularly within the AHS, and eliminating many of the perks the PC Government has given themselves,” says Saskiw.

“We’re going to be looking for savings in areas that don’t take away from frontline services and resources.”

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